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Day 7: Hennepin Co. Medical Examiner, Dept. of Corrections safety trainer testify in federal trial

Dr. Andrew Baker returned to the stand Tuesday, followed by Chris Douglas, a man who trained Thomas Lane on safety techniques as a correctional officer.

ST PAUL, Minn. —

  • Dept. of Corrections safety trainer doubles down on safety techniques taught to officers
  • Hennepin County Medical Examiner testifies about George Floyd's cause of death
  • Minneapolis Police Inspector defends MPD's training under cross examination

Tuesday marked day seven of the federal trial for three former Minneapolis police officers charged with violating George Floyd's civil rights on May 25, 2020, as he died under the knee of fellow officer Derek Chauvin. 

J. Alexander Kueng, Thou Tao and Thomas Lane are being tried together at the federal courthouse in St. Paul. Thao and Kueng face an additional count for failing to stop Chauvin, who was convicted of murder last summer in Floyd's death. Chauvin pleaded guilty to the same federal charges in December.

Dr. Andrew Baker returned to the stand Tuesday morning, facing lengthy cross-examination about harassment and threats he received while performing the autopsy on Floyd.

He testified that before this case, he had only received one threat regarding his work as Hennepin County's chief medical examiner, but after Floyd was killed, he said the threats went up exponentially.

"I'm sure it was hundreds, if not more. There were days the phone was ringing off the hook, around the clock," he said.

Baker said much of the threats were directed at him and his staff because of a line in the initial criminal complaint against Chauvin: "The autopsy revealed no physical findings that support a diagnosis of traumatic asphyxia or strangulation." It did not matter that the charging document also said the restraint likely contributed to Floyd's death. 

Baker said he faced a public onslaught after Robert Paule, attorney for former MPD officer Tou Thao, went through that line of questioning in an attempt to highlight for the jury the public pressures officials like Baker faced. But when asked whether the threats or pressure caused Baker to change or alter his findings, Baker answered, "No they did not." 

In addition to the testimony regarding threats, Paule was able to draw out other details from Baker that were not as prominent during Chauvin's murder trial, such as a national colleague who called Baker and insisted "neck compression" be included in his report. 

Court ended early Tuesday because a witness was sick and could not appear. It reportedly was not COVID, but the judge has been worried about an outbreak derailing the case. 

Testimony resumes at 9:30 Wednesday morning.

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1:30 p.m.

Court came back from lunch with the prosecution's next witness, Chris Douglas from the Department of Community Corrections in Hennepin County. 

Douglas' name was called out of order, as the prosecution revealed their planned witness was sick and unable to testify Tuesday. Judge Magnuson got upset with the prosecution, telling the team they need to be more prepared when a situation such as this arises.

Douglas told the court he is the safety trainer for all new employees, as well as being tasked with giving corrections officers "refreshers" throughout the year. Douglas added that he had trained Lane when he was a corrections officer in 2017.

The prosecution then asked him about safety training techniques — particularly, what to do if a person is handcuffed in the prone position. He said he teaches officers to roll them to the side recovery position in an effort to help them breathe better.

Gray went into cross-examination by getting Douglas to double down on his opinion that a person who is restrained and having trouble breathing should be rolled onto their side — a question made to point out that his client, Thomas Lane, had asked Chauvin to roll Floyd onto his side on at least two occasions.

Because the planned witness could not appear in court, testimony ended early for the day.

Court is scheduled to resume at 9:30 Wednesday morning.

12 p.m.

The courtroom abruptly took its morning break after a juror, who looked unwell and was shaking, according to the pool reporter, and was taken out of the room.

After the break, Tou Thao's defense attorney Robert Paule finished his cross-examination by going over whether Baker was pressured into making his findings.

While Baker agreed that his office received hundreds of phone calls and threats in reaction to his work in this case, he told Paule that no one has influenced or pressured him.

Attorneys for Thomas Lane and J. Alexander Kueng were brief in their cross-examination, both simply asking Baker if those officers' positions at the scene were related to George Floyd's cause of death. Baker said they were "completely unrelated."

On re-direct questioning by the prosecution, Baker reiterated that threats and pressure didn't cause him to change or alter his autopsy findings. Regarding excited delirium, Baker said he's listed it on a death certificate a few times but didn't list it on George Floyd's death certificate.

11 a.m.

Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker returned to the stand Tuesday morning for cross-examination by the defense teams.

Tou Thao's defense attorney Robert Paule began cross-examination and had Baker acknowledge that he initially told the Hennepin County Attorney's Office that there was no physical evidence of asphyxia in George Floyd's autopsy.

Baker said he was harassed and received multiple threats after the initial press release was issued.

Paule then asked Baker about a call he received from Roger Mitchell, who was the Chief Medical Examiner for the District of Columbia, where Mitchell expressed "he was unhappy with the language that came out in the charging document."

According to KARE 11 reporter Lou Raguse, who is following the trial from an overflow room at the courthouse, Baker called Mitchell a "valued colleague in the field" and didn't concede that Mitchell influenced him to change the language he used in his report on Floyd.

Baker also testified that he didn't find any petechiae, or broken capillaries, with George Floyd, which he said was a "strike against the hypothesis that blood vessels in the neck were being compressed."

RELATED: Who is on the jury for the federal trial of three former Minneapolis police officers?

Monday recap

Minneapolis Police Inspector Katie Blackwell returned to the stand for a third day to speak on MPD policies, officer training and the impact both may have had on the murder of George Floyd. 

Robert Paule, defense attorney for Thou Tao, asked Blackwell about an investigation into MPD by the Department of Justice, and a lawsuit filed by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights alleging racial bias within the department. 

Paule shifted to questions about "excited delirium," a condition characterized by agitation, aggression, acute distress and sometimes sudden death that is not recognized by a number of organizations, including the American Medical Association (AMA). 

During questioning by Thomas Lane's attorney Earl Gray, Blackwell confirmed it was appropriate for Lane to pull and display his gun while approaching George Floyd's vehicle outside Cup Foods and agreed Lane was deescalating the situation when he re-holstered his weapon and removed Floyd from the vehicle without force.

Inspector Blackwell reiterated to Prosecutor LeeAnn Bell that Chauvin's use of his knee on Floyd's neck was inconsistent with MPD training, and that Floyd should have been rolled onto his side after he stopped resisting. Blackwell said again she believes the other former officers violated MPD policy for failing to intervene and help Floyd.

The prosecution's next witness, Hennepin County Medical Examiner Dr. Andrew Baker, told jurors he believed George Floyd died from "cardiopulmonary arrest, complicating law enforcement subdual restraint and neck compression." 

Baker said he believes the restraint and neck compression played a key role in Floyd's heart stopping, adding that heart disease, hypertension and drugs also likely contributed.

RELATED: Day 6: MPD inspector wraps 3-day testimony; Hennepin Co. medical examiner takes stand

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